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'Copy-Proof' CDs Cracked with 99-Cent Marker Pen

May 24, 2002
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By Bernhard Warner, European Internet Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Technology buffs have cracked music publishinggiant Sony Music's elaborate disc copy-protection technology with adecidedly low-tech method: scribbling around the rim of a disk with afelt-tip marker.

Internet newsgroups have been circulating news of the discovery forthe past week, and in typical newsgroup style, users have pilloriedSony for deploying "hi-tech" copy protection that can be defeated bypaying a visit to a stationery store. "I wonder what type of copyprotection will come next?" one posting on alt.music.prince read."Maybe they'll ban markers."

Sony did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Major music labels, including Sony and Universal Music, have begunselling the "copy-proof" discs as a means of tackling the rampantspread of music piracy, which they claim is eating into sales. The newtechnology aims to prevent consumers from copying, or "burning," musiconto recordable CDs or onto their computer hard drives, which can thenbe shared with other users over file-sharing Internet services such asKazaa or Morpheus MusicCity.

SONY AGGRESSIVE ANTI-PIRACY PUSH

Monday, Reuters obtained an ordinary copy of Celine Dion's newestrelease "A New Day Has Come," which comes embedded with Sony's"Key2Audio" technology. After an initial attempt to play the disc on aPC resulted in failure, the edge of the shiny side of the disc wasblackened out with a felt tip marker. The second attempt with themarked-up CD played and copied to the hard drive without a hitch.Internet postings claim that tape or even a sticky note can also beused to cover the security track, typically located on the outer rim ofthe disc. And there are suggestions that copy protection schemes usedby other music labels can also be circumvented in a similar way. Sony'sproprietary technology, deployed on many recent releases, works byadding a track to the copy-protected disc that contains bogus data.Because computer hard drives are programmed to read data files first,the computer will continuously try to play the bogus track first. Itnever gets to play the music tracks located elsewhere on the compactdisc.

The effect is that the copy-protected disc will play on standard CDplayers but not on computer CD-ROM drives, some portable devices andeven some car stereo systems. Some Apple Macintosh users have reportedthat playing the disc in the computer's CD drive causes the computer tocrash. The cover of the copy-protected discs contain a warning that thealbum will not play on Macintoshes or other personal computers.

Apple has since posted a warning on its Web site.

Sony Music Europe has taken the most aggressive anti-piracy stancein the business. Since last fall, the label has shipped more than 11million copy-protected discs in Europe, with the largest proportiongoing to Germany, a market label executives claim is rife with illegalCD-burning.

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